NHS Choices will be rebranded as NHS.uk as part of plans to make it a “digital hub” for people to access health services, according to Beverley Bryant, director of strategic systems and technology, NHS England.

Speaking at the King’s Fund Digital Health and Care Congress in London yesterday, Bryant confirmed that NHS.uk – the current URL for NHS Choices – will be upgraded and updated to become a home for a range of NHS services. NHS Choices will be retained as part of the hub as an information directory.

“NHS.uk will be a clinically profiled directory of services encompassing health and social care services,” said Bryant, who added that the NHS is lagging behind other industries when it comes to digital services.

Services that would fall under the NHS.uk banner include secondary care services, such as the e-Referrals tool; urgent care services, such as NHS 111; a health app library; social care services,and the NHS Electronic Prescription Service.

NHS England is also working on developing its use of a variety of channels to connect with patients, ast research by the organisation has shown that a “multichannel offer is the thing the public have told us they want more than anything,” said Bryant.

She added that implementing these conveniences had costs saving benefits as well.

“The driver is customer service, but when you do it it actually costs less.”

The biggest savings are most likely to come from the greater use of electronic consultation, according to a ranking of the efficiency of new developments compiled by NHS England.

Other plans include giving people the ability to register for a new GP online and the creation of online version of NHS 111, with ongoing pilots for pathways in anxiety and cold and flu.

Underpinning all this has to be security, according to Bryant, who said the NHS is looking towards the banking sector, which has “got it nailed” when it comes to having good security that is also user friendly.

“If people don't feel confident that they have security they won't use the services, but we need that balance. If someone goes online to order repeat prescriptions and they are faced with 14 pages of disclaimers they are not going to use it.” 

Bryant said it is important to make the service relevant for local areas, saying that NHS Choices has been a “bit too national”.

“The vision is have an NHS.uk/barnsley or bristol where the local authority and health and wellbeing board work together to provide content onto those sites for citizens to meet the needs of what is relevant in that local area rather than what we think needs to be done on a national perspective.”

Despite this comment, there was concern from some delegates at the event who were keen for local organisations to be the one to provide the digital front door for local health services.

Maurice Smith, GP and governing body member for Liverpool CCG, helps lead the area’s More Independent online portal that is designed to enable users to take charge of their health, wellbeing and lifestyle and use technology to live more independently.

Speaking in a session on self-care platforms at the King’s Fund event he said that driving people towards one national hub for online services is “not an option I would prefer”.

Speaking to Digital Health News, he added: “I think that we need to have a local flavour, a local access point to engage local people. our experience tells us that people in Liverpool want to be engaged with local services.

“I have no objection to a national portal, but if you try drive everybody to a national portal and expect everybody to be happy with that I think you will be disappointed.”

In the same session, Beth Murphy, service manager for the Living It Up self-care hub in Scotland, also commented that despite being known as NHS.uk, the site does not cover Scotland.